Urgent Need for New Labor Strategies

Employee Free Choice Act Labor Organizing Organizing


Toronto Before Judy Duncan, ACORN Canada Head Organizer, and I went to York University to address Dr. Stephanie Ross’ class on Worker Organizations, we me with a friend for a pleasant hour who was a senior executive of one of the largest unions in Canada.  We often had this dialogue about where labor stood and future strategies for building a labor movement.

The conversation was more sobering than usual.

He shared with us the results of a regular semi-annual poll on the attitudes of Canadian workers on a whole number of subjects, but most telling in this case were the polling results concerning attitudes of unorganized workers to joining unions.  I was shocked at how low the numbers had fallen.

The percentage of workers polled who indicated that they would vote for a union if there were a representation election in their workplace had fallen to only 8% or 1 out of ever 12 workers.  If there were no opposition to the union being approved, only 18% of the polled unorganized workers were likely to vote yes.  Remember, that’s without opposition.

Among existing members of unions the sentiment was going exactly the opposite direction.  If a Canadian worker was in a union, 76% of them were happy about it compared to only 24% who were less satisfied.  These were the best numbers in a score of years, obviously prompted by the impact of the recession.  The recession has essentially made workers even more petrified of shaking the boat in any way thereby increasing their fear of  change if it means voting for a union, but if they are members of a union, they are thankful during this recession that they have real protection!

Looking at the graph, it was clear that these numbers did not appear overnight, but were part of long developing trends where the support of unions by unorganized workers was steadily declining.

The conclusion seems simple.  Strategies and tactics have to change.  We cannot rebuild the labor movement, even in Canada where concentration is 2 ½ times what it is in the United States without a “majority unionism” strategy similar to what I discuss in Citizen Wealth. Canada, remember, is where labor law and protections for union organizing are still relatively good, especially when compared to the United States where they are abominable!  Yet, not even here is there much hope that going the straight ahead route is going to reverse the trend and restore the labor movement.

Our friend echoed our own fears as we got up to leave, saying he hoped his union, even though losing members, would “come to their senses” and change their course, while they still had enough members and resources to make the change, rather than realizing they had to change when it was too late.

Our friend was right on target, but all we could hope is that we could help, and that he and others within his union would eventually be able to win the debate while they still could make a difference.